Very little has been easy for the enigmatic Texas basketball team this season so any thought that the Longhorns will get a bit of a break when they square off against “struggling” West Virginia on Saturday at 2 p.m. on LHN in a Big 12 Conference clash at Moody Center is just plain silly.
Yes, the Mountaineers have had their share of difficulty this season in their first campaign since 2007 without Bob Huggins on the coach’s stool. And, yes, West Virginia has had a constant battle with injuries that has affected the team’s chemistry and continuity, so much so that it’s won just eight times in 22 contests and only thrice in Big 12 games.
And, yes, West Virginia is 0-8 in games away from Morgantown, losing four times on a neutral court and all four road outings in conference play, including an 86-73 loss at No. 22 BYU on Feb. 3 in its most recent game.
Those aspects will mean next to nothing when the teams battle on Saturday. After all, one of the Mountaineers’ league wins was against Texas when the Longhorns were still ranked in the Top 25 and another came against then-No. 3 Kansas.
The Longhorns and Mountaineers are in 12th and 13th place, respectively, in the 14-team league standings just past the midway point of the Big 12 campaign. West Virginia (8-14, 3-6) is one of just two squads in the conference without an overall winning record and has dropped three of its past four games
“I don’t think West Virginia is really struggling – they have all their guys and have one of the more talented rosters in the Big 12,” Texas coach Rodney Terry said. “For us, again, we just know definitely what we said all along before every game – this is a big game because it’s the one in front of us. We stayed the course the entire time with that – we haven’t changed one time.”
Saturday’s game is the first for Texas against a team not ranked in the top 25 since Jan. 20, a program-record stretch of six consecutive outings. The Longhorns have dropped three of their past four games as well.
“There’s no pressure because we’ve asked our guys to trust to trust the process and trust a preparation,” Terry said. “You control what you can control, and what we can control right now is being prepared for talented West Virginia team that’s well coached that we have a lot of respect for. That’s what we can control; we can’t control anything outside of that.”
The Longhorns’ (15-8, 4-6 Big 12) most recent game was a 70-65 loss to No. 14 Iowa State on Tuesday. Dylan Disu hit for 28 points to lead all scorers, with Max Abmas hitting for 13, all in the second half, and Dillon Mitchell added 10 for Texas in the loss.
Texas trailed by 17 points at halftime after a poor-shooting first half but rallied to pull make it a one possession game on three occasions in the final minutes as Disu was at his best. But the Longhorns could never get over the hump and dropped its third game in their past four outings, all against ranked teams.
“I talked to the team this week about trying to understand what it takes to play tournament basketball,” Terry said afterward. “Tournament basketball is you can’t waste 20 minutes. We need to start learning to play like our season is ending right now with that kind of urgency.”
The Mountaineers travel to Austin after a week off and their loss at BYU. Kerr Kriisa led West Virginia with 23 points in the setback while Jesse Edwards tallied 16 and RaeQuan Battle tacked on 14 points. The Mountaineers allowed 19 second chance points off nine offensive rebounds, a stat that was certainly a deciding factor in the loss.
“When you combine second chance and fastbreak scoring, that’s 27 points right there and those are easy buckets that we cannot allow,” Mountaineers coach Josh Eilert said. “When you are making defensive miscues and you can’t rebound out of it that’s going to be a problem.”